Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin wrapped up last week’s rookie minicamp with a short press conference. During the conference, he touched on his enthusiasm that the Steelers were seeing progress from players involved in post-draft activities ahead of OTAs and pre-season.
“The guys are doing a really good job of learning some of the things that we’re asking them to learn,” said Tomlin, “and acclimating themselves to this environment. They’re really working hard. I like the energy and enthusiasm.” Tomlin pointed out that despite the group being composed of draft picks, undrafted rookie free agents and those in for a tryout, very few balls were ended up “on the ground”. “The things that could really erode away at the practice haven’t occured…So I think we’ve got some positive reviews thus far in terms of being able to evaluate and teach people, and it has been good.”
Twenty players were in for tryouts, but none were kept by the Steelers or signed. Two rookies have since signed, Rob Blanchflower and Daniel McCullers, but other draft choices aren’t likely to be signed until after the Steelers free up more salary cap room (post-June 1).
Tomlin told the media that these practices are an evaluation of skill but also of how quickly they can pick up instructions. “I think you gather information about people as much as you evaluate them: how they learn, how they learn in classroom settings, how they are on the grass,” said Tomlin. He admitted that the staff uses a blank-slate mentality and then give new players opportunities – even if that is just to learn from others’ mistakes. “We’re just gathering information about any and all of the guys individually and collectively.”
Re: How often Tomlin is surprised by players
Tomlin: “I think any time the ball is snapped you are capable of being in for a surprise, so there are surprising things that occur, but more than anything I look for pattern of behavior. It’s either attractive or unattractive, and there’s been a lot of that.”
Re: Tomlin’s philosophy on defensive line getting pressure on quarterback and how it affects secondary
Tomlin: “Rush and coverage work together and it has since the beginning of time, and will continue. You have to apply pressure to the quarterback it doesn’t matter how many people you do it with. You better use as many as required for consistent pressure to ensure that the ball comes out in a timely manner because when it doesn’t it means points and yards for the offense, and that’s just the reality of football at any level with the passing game as an integral part of it.”
Re: Bringing rookies along slowly or seeing reaction from a lot of information
Tomlin: “We change the pace on them. The big thing is you want to challenge them, but at the same time you don’t want to overwhelm them. So that means changing the pace from time-to-time with what it is you ask them to do or what it is you teach them.”
Re: The league changing the eligibility for players who participate in rookie mini-camp
Tomlin: “I’m a proponent of the offseason. I believe that guys that want an opportunity to work and need an opportunity to work should get an opportunity to work. So anytime you’re talking about more opportunities for young guys to grow and develop as players, I’ll be for that.”
Re: Steelers rookies limited by the quarter system in the NCAA schools
Tomlin: “[Jordan] Zumwalt and Shaquille [Ricahrdson] will be limited by that. I don’t know their potential return dates. That’s something we’ll figure out along the way, but those are guys that we acknowledge are going to be limited in terms of their OTA participation.”
Re: Advantage to pushing back OTAs in 2014
Tomlin: “It doesn’t matter. Obviously you want the OTAs to be after the draft, and the draft was pushed back. You want to have the opportunity to introduce new people to your football program and work with young people. So as long as it’s the same for everyone it’s fair and it is that.”
According to Tomlin, Martavis Bryant did fall during mini-camp while catching a ball on the sideline over the weekend. The injury isn’t considered serious. Stephon Tuitt was issued the jersey No. 91, but it was considered coincidental to Tomlin.
Finally, Tomlin said that he is not concerned about whether Troy Polamalu attends OTAs. “You know how OTAs are, they are voluntary. It’s not 100 percent attendance across the league.” Polamalu has traditionally trained in Southern California near his home. Other Steelers players have participated in similar training events away from the team over the years during OTA periods as well.